I'm sure every one of the 8,000 ticket holders who shows up at the Antiques Roadshow imagines a moment in the spotlight on PBS. That someone brought some dusty little item that's been sitting on some shelf for who knows how long, and it turns out said object is worth twelve and a half thousand dollars.
But I thought I was a shoe-in. After getting up at 5:30 a.m. (on a SATURDAY) to make the 1 1/2 hour drive to Biloxi, I took my two tickets, my husband, a few of my reproductions, and about a dozen samplers from my collection (the oldest dating from 1770 -- six years BEFORE the United States declared its independence). The drive was uneventful (tropical storm Bonnie, they said, was already fizzling out -- although driving along the beach, we saw a news crew from CNN filming on the beach.)
The convention center was already abuzz with activity at that early hour. We passed a man on a horse. And then another walking a horse, and then we saw a few signs pointing the way to "Cowboy Parking." (There were all kinds of horses in an enclosed area, as well as a bull with the LARGEST horns Steve and I had ever seen.) We parked, filled our arms with samplers, and trekked in.
Now, I had warned Steve that it could be a long day. The tickets and the web site advised lines could be very long, to wear comfortable shoes, and if you didn't really want to stand for long periods of time, to bring a folding chair. We were informed there would be a concession stand for food and drinks.
We arrived at twenty after eight (the event started at eight), and people were already leaving the building, many with framed prints from the early 1900's. Steve and I joked that it would be funny to just buy something at Target, take it as an "antique," but leave the UPC code right on the bottom. Or how about that old pair of underwear?
Excitement built as we were greeted by legions of volunteers in smoky blue polo shirts. "Welcome!" "Follow the carpets." "Turn left when you see the tables." Very well organized, I thought. We showed our tickets to one person, who directed us to a line at the far end of a large convention room. We again showed our tickets to another volunteer who pointed us towards a table with another friendly volunteer. "What have you got?" she asked. I told her I had brought my collection of antique samplers. "Is that it?" she said. "You definitely want Folk Art." She handed me four tickets (You probably won't need all four, she said, but what the heck. Steve and I could have brought up to two items each, but after digging through boxes and drawers, Steve couldn't find anything he felt was worthy, and I "just" had about a dozen wonderful antique samplers, which counted as "one" item -- a collection.)
Next, the entrance to the room where the appraisals and filming was going on. Professionally-printed hanging dividers with silhouettes of various kinds of antiques encircled what we knew was "it" -- the show! Another barricade of volunteers. Several waved at us, and we took our things over to a friendly woman (same blue shirt), who led us through the dividers and into the room, which was full of people, antiques, tables of experts, cameras, lights, scaffolding....
There were only two people ahead of us in the Folk Art line. The couple ahead of us had a baby carriage with some kind of old painted iron baby statue. Someone else had a tobacco cutter that was missing its blade. The Folk Art experts smiled as we came forward. The one on the left was just finishing up with another ticket holder, so the one on the right asked us to bring up what we had.
After introducing my pile of samplers (with just a hand gesture toward the pile), the volunteer appraiser asked me how long I had been collecting. "A year a half, two years?" I said. "Mm-hm," he said. "They almost look English, because the fabric is very fine," he said. "Oh, most of them are English," I said, "but I have one that's French, and this one here that might be English, or French, but the alphabet is Spanish, see?" (I was referring to my Spanish Mystery Sampler that is being stitched by Kathy, my friend and model stitcher, as I type.)
I launched into what I thought was an articulate little speech about how I was a needleworker, and a collector, and a designer and reproducer of antique samplers. "There aren't very many of us doing this anymore," I said. "Look at this pair of samplers." (here I pulled two from the pile -- one, the Jane Philpott sampler, the other, her sister's). "These were done by two sisters in 1837. And here is my reproduction of this sampler. Can you believe there are 40,000 cross stitches in this? And each stitch is actually two stitches -- two parts of an X -- so that's 80,000 total stitches."
At this point, the appraisers eyes kind of glazed over. The other one at the table, the epitome of an antiques collector (looking something like an antique himself) leaned over adjusting his thick glasses. "Well, that looks like it was done by HAND?!" (sigh) I knew I was sunk.
"See," my appraiser said. "This isn't really the type of thing that they're looking for on the show. You're an expert." (He called me an "expert!") "What they want is someone who doesn't know what they have. But this is very interesting. The Antiques Roadshow has a Facebook page, and you should post this information there. I think it would be very educational for people."
"But some of these samplers I hardly paid anything for. I got one for $25.00." I ruffled throught the pile hoping to tempt him with my bargain-hunting skills. "This one was $140." ("That was a good deal," he admitted.) "This one was $75." I pointed to the Philpott's. "Those, of course, I paid a lot more for." ("Of course," he said.)
"Thank you so much for bringing these in," he said, "You can go to your next table." "This is all we brought," I said. "Don't you want to look at all of them?" "I learned a lot just by talking to you," he said. "This was all very interesting."
I felt deflated. Steve was still standing behind me quietly holding several large framed samplers. I looked at the appraiser on the left, the one in the thick glasses, who touched the pile and a sampler I haven't shown you guys yet -- I'll put a picture up next week. It's got a striking red house, fanciful birds, and a U-shaped border around a beautiful verse. "This is lovely," he said. I agreed with him. They were all lovely.
"Don't we get an appraisal?" I finally asked. At least he could tell me I had a small fortune on my hands. The appraiser sat back a little, looking stymied. "If you bought these all in the last couple of years, you probably paid fair market value." (What, was he crazy? Had he forgotten that I told him I paid $25.00 for one of them?) So, basically, after being promised an appraisal, I didn't get one. We thanked him for his time (after all, he was a volunteer), and glanced around the room. There were a lot of areas we weren't supposed to walk into (they were filming). And we didn't have tickets to stand in other lines. We ran into Steve's department chair and his wife. They had brought a walnut side table that they had been told was worth $1,200. Then we left. It was 9:20.
We commiserated with a bearded man on the walk out. He was carrying a little table. "How old does something have to BE to get on the show!?" I asked Steve. The man said furniture has to be at least 100 years old to be considered an antique. "I have something from 1770," I said. "What did they tell you?" he asked. "They called me an expert and told me they were looking for people who didn't know anything." "Really?" he said. "They want people who are stupid? I can pretend to be stupid all day long," he said. We laughed and chatted on the way out to the far end of the parking lot. We hadn't needed cash for concessions, a folding chair for sitting, or even comfortable shoes.
Steve and I decided as long as we were in Biloxi we'd head over to Gulfport (just up the road a few miles) and go to the Prime Outlets shopping mall for a little retail therapy. Graham needed school uniform clothes but doesn't like clothes shopping (and I get sick of hearing, "I'M BORED!" every three minutes). We arrived a little before the stores opened and had a muffin each at "Bean & Leaf." Steve's was blueberry. Mine, chocolate (of course.) We listened to piped in music by Frankie Valli and complained about how we totally got ripped off. Steve said we should have just butted in over at the textiles table. What, were they crazy? How often does someone show up with that many samplers? They missed a golden opportunity. Mm, this muffin is good. What shops do you want to go to? All of them? Great. (I should note here that Steve likes shopping more than most women I know.)
We shopped for five hours -- getting lots of great bargains. Soft cotton t-hirts for $2.00. Putty-colored Tommy Hilfigger pants for $6.00. A finely-woven aubergine-colored men's sweater for $6.50. Hipster shirts at the Banana Republic for $10.00. Maybe if we hang onto these bargains for 50 years, we can take them to the Antiques Roadshow and see if they're worth anything.
We had a great time, trudging between chilly air-conditioned shops and the oppressive and sweltering heat of the outdoors (also known as the punch-you-in-the-face weather of July in southern Mississippi). By the end, we could have used concessions, and a folding chair, and more comfortable shoes. We took the last load of bags to the car, then drove five or six minutes to a Japanese restaurant where we had edamame (steamed and salted soy beans still in their pods), sushi, miso soup, and a couple of Cokes, which Steve said were "a gift from heaven." We decided our loss that morning was really the show's loss -- they didn't know what they had.
And the next time they're back in town, I'll be back at the Roadshow with my samplers (hopefully two or three times as many), with a blank expression on my face. "I found these in a dumpster behind the Burger King," I'd say. "They look almost like paintings. Do you think they're WORTH anything?'
We arrived home and unloaded the samplers and bag after bag of clothes. The kids had made a freezer pizza. Graham was watching "Deadliest Warrior," and Harrison was cruising the Internet. I unpacked the bags of clothes and made neatly-folded stacks, so we could look at everything. Harrison commented that it felt like Christmas. And even after a day of driving, disappointments, sore feet, and humidity you wouldn't believe, we were still, after all, blessed in so many ways. So joking around with our kids, laughing at the cats who had to lay on just about every shirt and pair of pants, it really did feel like Christmas.
(P.S. -- no pictures, sorry! Once you get past a certain point, you are not allowed to take pictures or have your cell phone on.)
(P.P.S. -- highlight of the Roadshow was standing about six feet from Leslie Keno -- an antiques furniture juggernaut who looks more like an aging rocker than a lover of dusty and grimy old benches. I've read the book he wrote with his twin Leigh two times, and highly recommend it. Each chapter is like a treasure hunt, and you don't have to know anything about antiques to enjoy it. It's called "Hidden Treasures: Searching for Masterpieces of American Furniture." Looks like amazon.com has them used for about $3.00, or if you use paperbackswap.com -- which I also highly recommend -- you could get a copy for free! As of this writing, it is available for order there.)